The North Korean authorities have recently begun dispatching agents to patrol the public markets scattered across the country in a bid to round up the large population of homeless children, many of whom beg for food in the surrounding areas and are collectively known as the kkotjebi. Sources within the country assert the recent move to North Korea’s attempt at propagandizing the nation as the preeminent place for children, no matter their socioeconomic situation, to live in the world.
“The kkotjebi have been disappearing from Chosun’s [North Korea] markets” a source in North Hamkyung Province reported to Daily NK on
February 27th. “Even if only one of the kkotjebi is spotted, he or she is forcibly removed and taken to a designated facility.”
He further explained that following their apprehension, the kkotjebi are first
placed in dormitories designated for the homeless and then eventually transferred to so-called “elementary academies,” where
they are provided with three meals a day and additional snacks. Schoolteachers
are even being recruited to provide elementary-level education to the children
residing in these institutions.
According to the source, the nationwide
initiative is highly structured, at least by North Korean standards; in many cases, these children are being transferred between provinces, according to the source, who cited a number of cases where kkotjebi are picked up in North Pyongan Province and transferred to corresponding facilities in North Hamkyung Province.
She explained that this highly ‘systematic
management’ of the kkotjebi means that this group has
been disappearing from the nation’s markets,” in what appears to be “an effort to to root out all them from those areas.”
Residents frequently discuss the plight of the kkotjebi and criticize that the problem persists on unabated–discontent that may have influenced Kim Jong Eun’s latest measure to demonstrate control over the situation. “During the era of the Suryeong [Kim Il
Sung], children were touted as the ‘the country’s kings and treasures,’ and this recent directive seems to be yet another way in which Kim Jong Eun seeks to emulate his
grandfather,” she said, broaching another theory behind the initiative.
Regulation of the kkotjebi has sharply
increased after nine young North Korean defectors, once part of the kkotjebi
themselves, were repatriated after their apprehension in Laos in 2013. Moreover, the increasingly stringent oversight will help bolster state claims, aimed at the international community, that “no
kkotjebi issue exists in North Korea.”
Despite this goal, the authorities have not
allocated any funds to the development of these “elementary
academies,” predictably shifting the onus onto residents in the regions to provide the funds and materials necessary for overall operations.
“Only the orphanages receive state funds; other
regional facilities don’t receive a thing,” she said. Naturally, she added, “there are various complaints
about how they procure money from ordinary, struggling residents in the region to take care of the kkotjebi.”
Most maintain that the state’s misguided attempts to solve the pervasive kkotjebi issue can hardly be considered a long-term solution set to rectify the underlying issues. Without a
sustainable, methodical plan, most agree that the measure will achieve no significant or stable results.
One senior defector spoke with Daily NK on
condition of anonymity about this issue, stating, “Lacking aid from the central authorities, regional facilities for the kkotjebi
demand labor from these helpless children to earn their keep. This practice frequently
results in children escaping and reverting back to life begging around the
markets. If they don’t develop an effective system to
provide for these kkotjebi, this problem will never be resolved.”